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On the Exhale: Solo Plays

Posted on: February 24th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A solo show (often also known as a “one person show”) can take many different forms, from just a comedian musing on stage to a piece of performance art. When we think of a solo show, many of us think of something biographical or a memoir. This is because the genre is dominated by this type of storytelling. Some famous examples include Elaine Stritch at Liberty, where Stritch documented her life, and actor John Leguizamo’s semi-autobiographical solo shows on Broadway, which drew on his life experiences to create explosive storytelling. With one performer, the storytelling can lend itself to being more insular, for the performer to open up to an audience in an intimate setting. On the other hand, actors such as Whoopi Goldberg have also used the opportunity of a solo show to show their versatility, playing hundreds of different characters. On the Exhale charts a slightly different course—it is a full play that happens to be performed by just one actor, who is telling an original, fictional story. But what is it that makes the solo show so enduring? In an age of big, bombastic shows, why tell a story in this format?

WISHFUL DRINKING marquee.

On a practical level, solo shows are usually simple to assemble and cost-effective. You do not have to worry about paying a large multitude of actors, and sets are often cheaper. Also, budgetary concerns of theatres have limited cast sizes over the last ten years. In an article for the New York Times in 2007, Todd Haimes, Artistic Director of Roundabout, stated that “a new playwright now, no matter how talented, would never write a play for 15 people because it wouldn’t get produced... [B]y virtue of the constrained budgets theaters have we’ve changed the style of playwriting. Arthur Miller wouldn’t write The Crucible today.” But does this mean you would opt immediately for a solo show? Not necessarily. In the same article, James Nicola, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), had a slightly different view: “if you are comparing a solo piece to something with 12 actors and three musicians there is a huge difference in budget… but a four-person play as compared to a one-person play— the savings is some, but not huge. The bulk of production expenses are for advertising, design, printing expenses; those prices are the same whether there is one person on stage or 20.” That being said, an average four-person show at NYTW costs $300,000, whereas a solo show will cost around $250,000, which is still a considerable saving. Fast forward ten years, and in terms of budgeting, it does not seem like much has changed. For On the Exhale, Roundabout estimates that the show will save $85,000- $100,000 compared to a normal Underground show. The savings made are not just on actor budgets, but also costume costs, set design (as one person shows tend to be less set heavy) and labor (teching a show with one actor will be considerably quicker).

Kevin Bacon in AN ALMOST HOLY PICTURE.

But simplicity and practicality are not the most important ingredients for doing a solo show. On the Exhale will be the first solo show at Roundabout since 2009, when Carrie Fisher performed Wishful Drinking. Before that show, the most recent solo shows at Roundabout were Beyond Glory with Stephen Lang (2007) and An Almost Holy Picture with Kevin Bacon (2002). Wishful Drinking was an autobiographical romp through Fisher’s past, while Beyond Glory looked at the courage behind servicemen who were awarded the Medal of Honor. An Almost Holy Picture had Bacon playing a priest, and On the Exhale explores gun violence. So what binds all these disparate plays together? Simply, the ability to provide intimacy and a compelling relationship with the audience, to really engage with them on a visceral level, which you often cannot get through larger casts. In almost any solo show, the performer constantly breaks the fourth wall, and many shows are completely in direct address to the audience, so there is a constant immediacy with the performer. In the words of NYTW’s Nicola, with a solo show “there is an energy in the room of authentic experience being conveyed that is not like anything else.”


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


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If I Forget: The U.S. Before 9/11

Posted on: February 22nd, 2017 by Roundabout

 

The Rise of the Internet
Today, we pull smartphones out of our pockets to look up information, stream music, and watch videos. But back in 2000, the most common way to access the Internet was through a desktop (or one of the new laptops) computer with a wired connection. WiFi hotspots, tablets, smartphones, social media, and most streaming video were all several years away.

While what we think of as the Internet--a network that allows computer networks around the world to communicate with one another--began in the 1960s, it didn’t become a part of American public life until the 1990s.

The Internet became available to the American public in 1992. Households could get Internet access for the low price of $10 for four hours, or $20 for 20 hours of use. Most Americans had dial-up access, which used existing phone lines and infrastructure to connect to the internet. Users couldn’t talk on the phone and surf the web simultaneously, and connections were slow. It could take up to 20 minutes for a single, image-heavy page to load.

Web browsers with graphic interfaces, which made accessing the Internet user-friendly, were introduced in 1993, the same year the White House launched a website. Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay, Javascript, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Windows all launched in 1995. AOL Instant Messaging, or AIM, debuted in 1997, giving millions of teens and tweens a new way to communicate (and miscommunicate) with their crushes. These programs caused a boom in Internet popularity: in 1995, just 14% of American adults used the Internet, but by 2000, 46% did.

Qualcomm Cell Phone, 2000

Cell Phones Circa 2000
Though the first cell phone went on the market in 1983 (and cost $4,000!), cell phones didn’t take off until around 1996. Up until that time, teens used pagers, which receive numeric messages on a small screen, to communicate. That began to change when competition drove down the price of cell phone plans, and the phones themselves became sleeker and smaller. The 1997 Nokia 6110 was one of the first phones without an antennae, and it came in four colors and offered paging capabilities.

In 1999, one-third of American adults owned a cellphone. The first phone with internet capabilities was introduced that year, though the tiny, greyscale screen made meaningful browsing difficult. Most phones didn’t have full keyboards: users simply pressed numeric keys repeatedly until the desired letter was reached. The average plan cost $40/month, and text messages weren’t included.

Bush-Gore Election
In the 2000 presidential election, Republican George W. Bush, governor of Texas and son of President George H.W. Bush, ran against Democratic Vice President Al Gore. Activist and attorney Ralph Nader ran as the Green Party candidate. The campaigns centered on domestic issues, including President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair and impeachment trial, as well as the economy.

The election was the closest in United States history. Victory came down to whichever candidate captured Florida’s electoral votes, and early reports said Gore won the state; later reports declared Bush the winner. Gore actually called Bush to concede, but later called back to retract his concession. Official tallies showed only 600 votes separated the candidates, few enough to trigger a mandatory statewide machine recount. After the recount only 327 votes separated the candidates. The Gore campaign sued for a hand recount of votes in several counties, which raised questions about the design of the ballot and voter intent in unclear ballots. After several legal challenges, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of ballots that voting machines registered as not indicating any presidential candidate. The Bush campaign appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the ruling. Bush was declared the winner of Florida’s electoral votes and became the 43rd president of the United States.

Jim Lehrer moderating Bush v. Gore presidential debate


If I Forget is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, If I Forget, Upstage


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If I Forget: Tenleytown

Posted on: February 17th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

It’s a store. It’s a parcel of property. It’s not some kind of magical place. There are no magical places. There’s just dirt. It’s all the same dirt.
-Michael, If I Forget

Tenleytown Train Station

In If I Forget, the Fischer family grapples with the future of a building they own in Tenleytown, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C. about five miles northwest of downtown. The town was named for John Tennally, who owned a tavern in the area in the 1790s. It remained a small, rural community until the American Civil War, when its status as the highest point in the District made it a natural choice for the location of Fort Pennsylvania (later renamed Fort Reno) and Union soldiers sent to protect the city.

After the Civil War, a neighborhood called Reno City developed around the site of Fort Reno.  Reno City was a mixed-race, working-class neighborhood. 75% of the population was African- American, and 25% was white. In 1890, a streetcar line connecting the area with downtown Washington began service, and middle-class white families began moving to the areas around Tenleytown. In the 1920s, parts of Reno City were condemned and seized by the government to make way for a new middle school, high school, park, and water tower.

Midcentury, Tenleytown was part of a commercial and residential area with a suburban vibe. Washington’s first Sears and Roebuck department store opened there in 1941. That year, Washington, D.C.’s demographics were about what they’d always been: roughly 70% white, 30% black. But that changed in 1954, when public schools were desegregated. White families moved to the suburbs in response; by 1960, the city was 53% black. In 1970, 71% of D.C. residents were black.

Washington, D.C. after the MLK
assassination

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, riots erupted in Washington, D.C. and several other cities, a result of years of frustration with systemic racism that led to discrimination in employment, education, the criminal justice system, housing, and access to services. The riots destroyed 900 stores and decimated the city’s black business districts.

While Tenleytown wasn’t damaged in the riots, the city as a whole struggled to recover. The total population dropped 15% from 1970 to 1980, and it continued dropping through 2000. Both white and black residents fled the area.

But by 2000-2001, when If I Forget takes place, money and young residents are returning to the nation’s capitol, part of a national shift in residential living patterns. Immigrants and their children, like the Jimenez family, are also settling in American cities and contributing to their revitalization. Between 2000 and 2015, the city gained over 100,000 residents. Today, the population is 43% White, 49% Black, 10% Hispanic or Latino, 4% Asian, 0.6% Native American, and 2.6% other. Tenleytown has had a spike in property values: a building in Tenleytown today is worth 60% more than it was in 2000.


If I Forget is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, If I Forget, Upstage


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